The idea of a united Europe solving its internal disagreements peacefully rather than by wars, has been present
ever since the middle ages and was argued for by important intellectuals such as Rousseau during the
Enlightenment. In 1923, Austrian Count Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi founded a pan-European forum and in 1929, the
French foreign minister - wanting to achieve security for France against Germany - put forward the Briand plan of
combining European countries into a federation. The proposal was dismissed as Britain, Germany and others were
Following the second World War, a new spirit of cooperation developed, as the war-torn people and governments of
Europe sought for ways to achieve a durable peace. New proposals were laid on the table, such as a suggestion by
resistance movement member Altiero Spinelli to create a federal Europe with a common government, constitution and
army. Churchill made a similar suggestion in a famous
speech in which he reflected on Europe's potential and the tragic events having taken place there:
And what is the plight to which Europe has been reduced? Some of the smaller States have indeed
made a good recovery, but over wide areas a vast quivering mass of tormented, hungry, care-worn and bewildered
human beings gape at the ruins of their cities and their homes, and scan the dark horizons for the approach of
some new peril, tyranny or terror. Among the victors there is a babel of voices; among the vanquished the sullen
silence of despair. That is all that Europeans, grouped in so many ancient states and nations, that is all that
the Germanic races have got by tearing each other to pieces and spreading havoc far and wide. [..] What is this
sovereign remedy? It is to re-create the European Family, or as much of it as we can, and to provide it with a
structure under which it can dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom. We must build a kind of United States of
Perhaps the most important proponent of European unification was Jean Monnet, who provided the inspiration for
the Schuman plan. In a declaration on 9th May 1950, French foreign minister Robert Schuman proposed that French and German production of
coal and steel - essential ingredients of war - be put under a common High Authority as to intertwine the
countries sufficiently to prevent a new war. He also invited other European countries to join. That day has
become known as Europe Day and is celebrated
by some and ignored by others. In 1951, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands signed a
treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC).
The next major step in European integration occured in 1957 when the six countries proceeded with the creation of
the European Economic Community (EEC). The idea was to create a larger geographic area in which workers, goods
and services could freely move. Customs duties were abolished and soon, common agricultural and commercial
policies were established. Impressed with the progress, Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom joined the
community in 1972. The role of the community was also extended to regional, social and environmental issues.
In 1979 a period of worldwide monetary instability led the community's member countries to create the European
Monetary System (EMS) in which a strict monetary policy was practiced. The discipline and the open market benefited member countries. In the eightees, Greece, Spain and Portugal joined the
community, which was starting to show a united front and signed agreements with countries around the world. In
key trade negotiations in 1994, the community negotiated as a single block and today remains the world's biggest
In 1986, the community signed an agreement to establish by 1993 a single market. When the Berlin wall fell, room
was paved for even more enthusiastic integration and more agreements were signed. In the Treaty of European
Union, the community was renamed to the European Union (EU) and the principle of European citizenship was
"Citizenship of the Union is hereby established. Every person holding the nationality of a Member
State shall be a citizen of the Union..."
In addition, work began on the formation of a common foreign and security policy (CFSP) and agreements were
reached to increase cooperation in other areas such as justice and health. It was also decided that by 1999, the
Union's member states would replace their national currencies with a single currency. In 1995, Sweden, Finland
and Austria joined the Union. In 1999 the euro currency, €1 EUR, was introduced on world financial markets and in
early 2002, it started circulating as bills and coins while the old currencies, by now just other ways of
expressing a particular amount in euros, ceased to be legal tender.
In 1999, heads of state tasked a special convention with drawing up a Charter of Fundamental Rights for the Union's citizens. Rather than the replace existing laws and constitutions, the Charter's purpuse was to summarize and clarify existing rights in a single document applying to everyone in the Union. In foreign policy, one of the more controversial aspects of the Charter has proved to be Article 19:
In extradition requests, this article has caused friction with the United States in particular. US prosecutors have had to promise prior an extradition that the death penalty will not be applied. It is however worth pointing out that the strong views held by European countries on the issue of death penalty are in no respect new, but follow in the spirit of the much older European Convention on Human Rights which dates back to 1950, but is unrelated to the EU and has many more signatories than there are EU member states.
Protection in the event of removal, expulsion or extradition
1. Collective expulsions are prohibited.
2. No one may be removed, expelled or extradited to a State where there is a serious risk that he or she would be subjected to the death penalty, torture or other inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
There are a lot of misconceptions about the EU, particularly in Scandinavia and the United Kingdom. Many assume
that random unelected civil servants have far reaching powers to create laws against the will of the member
states. Sometimes, member governments take advantage of this and blame the "EU" for unpopular laws that they
themselves shaped. For an understanding of the EU, it is fundamental that one is aware of the role of its various
institutions and how they function. To save space, we will only look at the most important institutions. A
more complete list can be found here. In addition to the
various institutions, there are also a number of EU agencies located throughout the member states with
varying roles and degrees of power. The geographical placement of new agencies is sometimes cause for considerable battle among states, all of whom desire the honour of hosting an EU agency. Notable among the agencies is European anti-fraud office OLAF, European police Europol and European foreign aid office ECHO, which in combination with its equivalent
state aid agencies distributes 55 % of all
global humanitarian aid.
The European Commision presents proposals for laws that,
if adopted, become universal laws across the entire Union. The commision seeks to move the Union forward by
creating proposals that its states can unite around to ensure progress in various areas. The commision also has
the role of ensuring that states comply with adopted legislation. This can be done by bringing member states to
court, as a last resort. Each state government appoints one or two commisioners (depending on population size),
to work in a particular topical area. For example, there is Trade Commisioner Pascal Lamy, who represents the Union in
negotiations with "foreign" (non-EU) nations in trade issues. The Trade Commisioner is the EU equivalence of US
trade representative Robert Zoelick. While he is given extensive negotiative powers, his mandate is derived from
the states and he has constant consultations with them. Competition Commisioner Mario Monti heads the Union's anti-trust authorities that decide on mergers between companies operating in the EU. There are a total of 20 commisioners for areas such as
social policy, environment, science and technology, and external relations. The state governments also appoint a
Commision President, currently
Romano Prodi, who by some is mistakenly seen as a kind of president of the European Union as a whole. As people
did not elect him directly, this misconception naturally causes some hostility towards him. The president's role
is to coordinate the work of the Commision and sometimes represent the EU as an organization, but his concrete
powers are few and not comparable to those of a prime minister or national president. When appointed,
commisioners vow to work for the interests of the Union as a whole, and are not supposed to guard the interests
of the state that elected them.
The European Parliament has over six-hundred representatives, directly
elected by the people in all the EU every five years. Less populated states are given more votes, relatively
speaking, than big states, so that the interests of small states have sufficient representation. Like any
national parliament, the European Parliament is organized in various committees who focus on particular areas.
The power of the European Parliament has gradually been extended over the decades. In some cases, the European
Parliament has a purely advisory role while in many areas it has direct veto power over proposals put forward by
the Commision. Members of the Parliament belong to political parties that work on EU level, that correspond to
parties on state level. For example, all social democratic parties in the EU have united in the Party of European
Council of Ministers
The Council of Ministers (AKA Council of European Union) holds the
cabinet from each state. All ministers, the prime minister included, use the Council to carry out discussions on
policy - often in the form of tightly guarded summits held around Europe. The Council has veto power over the
proposals from the commision. To solve its internal disagreements, the state governments vote. Depending on the
area to decide about, either a unanimous decision is required or a majority is sufficient. Votes are
weighed so that small states have more relative power than big states, in light of their share of the total EU
population States take turns every six months in holding the presidency of the council. The state that holds the
presidency does not hold any extraordinary power over the decision-making, in theory, but in practice has a
better chance to set the agenda and thereby control the debates. The Council is often characterised by
negotiations late into the nights, with each state fiercely protecting its own perceived interests. The Council
appoints a foreign policy representative, formally called "High Representative for Common Foreign and Security
Policy" - presently Javier Solana. The creation of this function likely can at least partially be traced back to past US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's call
for a single phone number to
Europe. However, confusingly, the High Representative's role somewhat overlaps with a member of the Commision,
namely External Relations Commisioner Chris Patten.
European Court of Justice
The European Court of Justice is sometimes referred to as the
Guardin of the Treaties. Physically located in Luxembourg, it is a kind of European equivalent to the US Supreme
Court. The final arbitrer of conflicts between EU institutions or states, the Court has the power to issue final
rulings on issues regarding EU legislation and in particular, the EU treaties that heads of state have signed
that combined make up the equivalence of a European constitutional framework. In case of doubt, courts in the
states are required to consult the EU Court before ruling on issues that touch EU legislation.
The Court has been known for a high level of independance, and its rulings have not infrequently upset EU
institutions or states. Some of the more interesting and controversial rulings include:
A decision to revoke a Commision directive to ban tobacco advertising. The Court pointed out that this was a health issue, which is something the Community as a whole does not hold powers in under the legislation regarding the Single Market.
Cases C-120/95 and C-158/96 - Nicolas Decker v Caisse de Maladie des Employés Privés and Raymond Kohll v Union des Caisses de Maladie, in which the Court found that states are required to reimburse citizens for the cost of healthcare obtained in another state.
Case C-353/99 P - Council of the European Union v
Hautala which concerned attempts by a Green Party EU parliamentarian to gain access to a Council document
relating to arms exports. As the document contained classified information, the Council refused access to the
entire document. The Court's findings were:
The Court of Justice held that Decision 93/731 neither requires the Council to consider nor
expressly prohibits it from considering whether partial access to documents may be granted. It pointed out that
the public must have the widest possible access to the documents held by the Commission and the Council and
rejected the Council's argument that Decision 93/731 concerns only access to "documents" as such, not to the
items of information contained in them.
While the principle of access to official EU documents does not compare to the unique offentlighetsprincipen of Finland and Sweden, this landmark ruling forced state governments to begin to fulfil their stated promise to increase transparency in the EU institutions.
European Central Bank
The European Central Bank in Frankfurt conducts the monetary policy for the
common currency, the euro. Note that three EU states; Sweden, Denmark, and the United Kingdom, have chosen to
retain their old currencies for the time being but may consider adopting the euro at a later date. Doing so would
require them to surrender their national monetary policies.
The traditional way to affect the government, with which most people are familiar, is through the ballot box and
by contacting representatives. A lot of people unfamiliar with the EU's working methods feel alienated by the central institutions, and
are unsure of how to affect change now that so many laws and decisions come out of Brussels, the unofficial
capital of the European Union.
You may be surprised, but the old ways are still just as appropriate today. The number one way of affecting what
the EU does and how it develops, is by voting for the party of your choice in the national elections. This will
help to ensure a makeup of representatives in the Council of Ministers that is politically favourable to you.
Also, vote for your favoured representatives in the elections for European Parliament. Many believe that the
Parliament has virtually no power, but its competencies has been extended over the years and today it has veto
power in many areas, and a lot of leverage in others. Something which is important to keep in mind is that
representatives will align themselves with their party friends on EU level - that may in subtle or less
subtle ways differ from the positions taken by the political party on state level. It is beneficial to
investigate the website of the EU party group that your state parties belong to. This website lists the major parties in the European
Parliament. If you wish to
present your views, you should definitely consider contacting both your national and European parliamentarians,
as well as your national ministers (who sit in the Council) and the appointee in the Commision who deals with the particular area
of interest to you.
If you like on-line dialogue, you may consider attending one of the chats on IRC - the biggest chat system - that
the commision has arranged fairly regularly since 1997. Typically, a new chat is announced every few months and
is hosted by a Commisioner and his/her team of experts, who devote two hours to a particular policy area.
Questions are typed right into the main room (#en for English) or one of the various language-specific rooms,
where translators are standing by to accept questions or opinions in (usually) any official EU language. This site holds information about scheduled chats (and how to participate in them), as well as transcripts and webcam photos from past chats. There is no censorship or
intermediary who relays questions, so the room can get chaotic sometimes - but the discussion is often very interesting. The modern day
equivalence of town meetings with the electorate?
Several countries in eastern Europe have applied for membership in the EU, and are carrying out extensive reforms
(powered, in part, by what is known as pre-accession aid from the EU budget) to their justice systems. For
example, applicant countries are strengthening minority rights, abolishing death penalty, and ensuring the
independance of courts in order to meet the EU's requirements. They are also in the process of incorporating all
current EU law into their societies. However, it is clear that as the Union expands in the coming years, when its total
population will rise from 380 million to over 500, the present system of law-making will need reform. If this
does not happen, the Union risks being paralyzed as single states still have veto power in many areas of
A special Convention on the Future of Europe, consisting of representatives from governments, national parliaments, the European Parliament, and
the Commision, has been tasked by the Council with reflecting on how the European Union should work in the future
in order to be effective and meet the expectations of citizens. While the Convention lacks legal powers, its
findings will be difficult to ignore when the heads of state meet for the intergovernmental conference in 2004.
By then, leader of the Convention Valéry Giscard d'Estaing - who has compared himself to US founding father Ben
Franklin - hopes that an EU constitution can be adopted, and that the balance of power between states and the
central institutions can be decided on once and for all. Suggestions on reform are pouring in from all kinds of
sources, including governments, civil rights groups, political parties, and others. Some have ambitious proposals
of converting the Commision to a Federal Government, its President directly elected by the people, while
others prefer to expand on the current more state-based approach to policy making and simply abolish more areas where a unanimous vote is required.
A single European Army has
also been suggested, something that the Union may already be on its way to achieving by the creation of a
Rapid Reaction Force and the pooling of resources to rectify admitted deficits in military capability.
Interesting recent developments have been the agreement to create Galileo, an independant satellite positioning system, and the decision to purchase many new Airbus planes for troop transportation.
Citizens have been invited to speak out on the future of the EU in a threaded web-based discussion forum.
In addition to the links provided in the text, the following websites may prove useful:
This is the official portal of the European Union, with a huge amount of information and news in all official languages on everything from policy and law to the working methods of the institutions.
The European Union in the World
An official portal for issues in which the Union acts globally - such as trade, aid and foreign policy.
The official site for the EU's relations with foreign (non-EU) countries. Holds valuable information such as news, and a menu with which one can select an information page about the EU's relations with a particular country.
The European Union in the United States
The official website of the EU ambassador to the US. The pages on this Washington-based office holds a lot of information on EU-US relations and cooperation programs, and a special Guide for Americans.
In the somewhat "euroskeptic" northern European countries, bizarre myths about the EU develop on a regular basis - such as that British cars must have an EU flag on license plates.
It is clear that the Union has come a long way since its conception over fifty years ago. While it sometimes is inefficient and bureacratic, from the perspective of securing peace, it must be considered a success. In also continues to show that when European countries unite, they have a much better chance at defending their opinions. Its unique way of unifying traditionally soverign countries has provided the inspiration for the African Union (AU) which seeks to establish similar central institutions in order to better protect the interests of African nations.
The various Treaties that have been signed and ratified over the course of the European Union's development have given citizens additional rights, most notably the right to freely work or study in other states with little effort. For the Schengen area which comprises all EU states except the United Kingdom and Ireland, not even a passport is required to travel.
I hope that this article will have helped to clear up some of the confusion regarding the Union and how it forms its policy.